[Interview carried out by Nicola Williamson (Washington School)
Can you tell me your name and date of birth?
My name is Constance Jameson and I was born in Croft near Darlington in 1920, the 5th of December if you want to know.
Can you tell me about your parents?
My father worked for the railway. He was in the First War and when he came back he got a job at the wagon works in (Shelbrook, shinbrook, shields.??) and we moved there. That was a long time before WW2 started. With all the talk leading up to WW2 my dad was white faced, he was worried about my brother.
How old was your brother?
My brother is 18 months younger than me. He is now 94.
Did you have a happy childhood growing up in Croft? Was it a nice little community?
I did but I didn’t grow up in Croft. I was just 2 when we moved to….??. My brother had just been born.
What were your interests as a child?
Oh, that’s way too far back….Well; we played in the streets a lot. We didn’t have television or that lot. We use to run around with candles in jam jars and go fishing. There was a pond; we use to go fishing a lot. And I enjoyed school. I liked school. We did a lot of PE. I was on a team that went around giving demonstrations showing exercises, jumping around, doing lifting. I got lifted a lot as I was little.
Can you remember the build up and outbreak of war? What was that like?
Very traumatic. At the start it was like a big black cloud over everybody. We were all worried, we didn’t know what was going to happen. I had trained as a children’s nurse and was working in Newcastle with a very nice family, 2 lovely children. A little boy well he was just a baby and his 5 year old sister who is now 84 and I’m still in touch with her. But because we were in Newcastle the parents were worried about the children being in Newcastle. We were evacuated to…?? near Durham to a little hotel for a few weeks then the parents actually rented part of a big house in Shortley Bridge which was owned by 2 maiden sisters called Ms Winstons. They kept goats and sold goats milk and that’s where we stayed…..In 1942 we had what was called Direction of Labour and I was virtually called up. I was sent to the War Nursing in Sherston (?). I think it had just opened but I’m not sure about that. It was just a little single storey concrete building but it was very well equipped. We had the babies nursery at one end and toddlers at the other. We just kept the children up to the age of school- they were 4 years old. Their Mothers brought them in supposedly at lunchtime, well after lunch, on Sunday and took them home before lunchtime the following Sunday so we had them all week. How they parted with little babies for a whole week- my Maternal instinct wouldn’t have allowed that …. But it did – I remember one little black baby, adorable child, and his Mother brought him in. He’d be in his 70’s now !! I had nothing to do with admissions the nursery was staffed by trained Nurses not like that one in High Wycombe we didn’t have any pupils or trainees. We were all qualified and either the Matron or the sister were there to admit him but this little black baby when it came to taking him home the Mother just didn’t appear and of course the Police were called and when they visited she wasn’t there. She’d given a false name and a false address. I didn’t know what happened to him after that , I often wondered. He’d have been taken into care, whether they found his Mother or not I never found out.
I often wondered but most of them were happy children. Like I said in that African (?) one – Monday was nit day and we would clean them up. I mean some of them the odd one or two they would turn up on Monday morning and we’d clean them up and they’d be alive again when they came back. One or 2 of the babies had very sore bottoms they were not changing their nappies regularly. We tidied them up and sent them home and mostly they came back alright. We did have some fun – there was 2 local women I knew them well, they were in lodgings and I have tried to get myself to remember their names and if they are still alive I apologise ( laughs). We worked 8 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon, another lot came on duty at 2 until 8 at night and then the night staff. I think there were 3 during the day – 3 Nurses and either sister or Matron but during the night there were just 2 of us and I worked 8 at night until 8 in the morning. We had plenty of work but there was time too- we were allowed to sit for 2 hours but nobody knew what we were doing. We had all the nappies to wash and that was quite a job, there were no throwaway nappies in those days. That was one job. The youngest babies were sleeping through the night but the older ones didn’t. About 10 o’clock we used to go round the toilets, we picked them all up and put them on potties.”
And then lie them down again. And there was never any trouble there, but when the babies wanted feeding, you can imagine we had up to twelve, ten or twelve, and the noise was quite deafening.
The tiny babies, we nursed but some of the bigger ones, I mean the weren’t very old but they were old enough to hold their own bottles. So we propped the bottles up and two of us nursed the babies, the tiny ones and the other one ran round the cots making sure that the bottles were in the right place, and then, as I say that was during the day.
But when we were on nights, one of these nurses whose name I can’t remember, I was with her on night duty and we got very friendly and she was in lodgings close by, ’cause I lived at home with my parents, and we used to go home, have a meal then go into Darlington, have a look around the shops. Perhaps go and see a film if we, if that was what we wanted. Come home, go to bed for a few hours, then be back on duty for eight o’clock. Which was fine.
The little ones, the toddlers, well we did, we did all the usual things with them, but the night staff had to get them up and dressed and sat at the tables ready for breakfast when the day staff came on. And the day staff of course, we then dished out the breakfast. Did all the potty duties after that. We had a cook and helper of some sort in the kitchen, and all the bed linen was sent to the laundry, but as I said the night staff washed the nappies.
I was engaged to be married by then and the nurses whose husbands came on leave were given time off while their husbands were on leave, but fiancés weren’t. So we got married.
He came on leave, well they only ever had seven days leave. We had a series of honeymoons, seven days honeymoons. But he came on leave January ’44 and I never saw him again for thirteen months. Most of that time, or a lot of the time I had no idea where he was but we never did, we never did where the were. We just had a army postal address. But by the time he did come home I had a four month old baby, whom he knew nothing about, he’d never seen. Must been a bit of a shock, (to the interviewer) and that’s your husband, yeah. I mean he knew about of course. But I was on night duty while I was expecting him and I came off on June the sixth 1944 to be told that the D-Day invasion had started. Which of course was very worrying because I didn’t know where he was, how he was, or if he was. And it was quite some weeks after that, quite a long time before I eventually got a postcard, a printed postcard not written, he just signed it. To say I’m alive and well, that’s it. He was in France.
But to go back a bit, at seven months, when I was seven months pregnant I left. I had to leave. We couldn’t leave before seven months, we had to stay in the job but we couldn’t stay after seven
So after that I did lots of things, and one of the things I remember I was helping the WVS, and they had taken a room in the Friends meeting house and there, there was the soldiers that were billeted, we had the Sherwood Foresters on duty then. There were games tables, tables where they could write letters home and a postbox, The WVS ladies. But my greatest memory of that was making beetroot sandwiches. Some of the men had allotments where they grew beetroots and the ladies boiled them and we made the sandwiches. Occasionally we had a bit of cheese and made a cheese sandwich, and occasionally we had spam, but mostly it was beetroot. And quite honestly the boys liked beetroot sandwiches! And honestly I’ve always liked beetroot myself, so every time I have beetroot I remember making sandwiches for the soldiers. But that’s about what I remember.
What was the food like when the rationing came in, what were the major differences that you started to notice, with feeding the children?
The children in the nursery we had rations for them of course, and we had gas masks, we had mickey mouse gas masks for the toddlers, and the babies had a sleeping bag with a gas mask at one end. Fortunately we were never called upon to use them. But adults weren’t allowed anywhere without a gasmask. You weren’t allowed in the pictures or dance hall, anywhere. You had to take your gasmask with you. One of the things I remember most, we had rations from America, we had dried milk called klim; milk spelled backwards, and I liked that, it was very nice. We had dried egg which, well, it was passable, nobody enjoyed it, but we had no other option. Fortunately my husband came from a farm so we did have, whenever I got through to see them, see my in-laws, we did have eggs and farm butter, which my mother in law used to make.
That’s one of the things I remember most about rationing, we had 2oz of butter each week, and that isn’t very much but the rest was margarine. We didn’t have spreads like we do now! There wasn’t very much of it, I can remember being in hospital with other women and 2 of these women were suffering from malnutrition because their husbands were in manual work and they’d given their rations to their husbands. In one instance their husband had demanded them. But the other one she just had told him she wasn’t hungry, she didn’t want it. But that was one effect of the rationing. Sugar I didn’t miss terribly, we all had sugar in our tea regularly before the war but we all gave it up and I’ve never had sugar since in tea. I remember the sweet rationing, but the boys, well I’d had both boys by then and the sweet rationing went on till the 1950s and to be honest I’d never bought sweets, only the occasional treat, but because they were rationed we didn’t waste the coupons. Clothing, we had very strict clothing rationing.
We had coupons for practically everything. The one thing that wasn’t rationed was parachute silk, if you knew where to get it and it made beautiful underwear. I had some nice underwear that I made with parachutes, but when I married the lady that lived next door, an elderly spinster, she was an old dear, I loved her very much and she’d watched us grow up, and she gave me all her clothing coupons.
So I had a full dress wedding, I had a long velvet dress which my mother had made, and I had a going away outfit, which not many people had. Their going away outfit was what they’d been married in. My husband of course was in uniform. I used to go to the local butcher or grocery, they were just small shops there were no supermarkets and say my husband’s coming on leave, what can I have? Invariably they found something under the counter, maybe a tin of beans or a few sausages or something like that. It all went on, it was illegal I suppose, but it went on. Apart than that I can’t really remember much about rations, except that it went on a long time. A long time after the war. We expected, once the war finished it was over, but the rationing went on. Of course the merchant shipping had taken a very hard loss; lost a lot of ships and a lot of men. I had a cousin who was married to a royal marine, he was in the merchant navy, and one thing that he mentioned afterwards was that, because he was a bandsman and he had to play the last post whenever they buried anyone at sea, he had to do it a lot, and that was one of the things that upset him.
Who did your husband serve with?
The Royal Artillery
How did you cope, not having that information of where he was, and what was happening to him? How did you get through a day not knowing?
Well like everything else you don’t know how you’ll cope until it happens and you just do, you get on with it. I was lucky I had my own parents and I had to travel, I visited his parents as well, I did have a lot of support.
And the night we celebrated VE Day, I had David. He was creeping about, and my cousin was pregnant with her first, with John so we just, we didn’t go out. We didn’t do anything because we were somewhat handicapped! And it was a village, Great Ayton. Wasn’t just a little village. Well. It’s a big village, but – I think that had a bonfire and we watched the fireworks through the window. But everybody was highly elated obviously, I mean, the lights went on and the bells started ringing. Jubilation. And of course we’d won. We knew we would
Did it take long from the end of the war for your husband to come home?
Yes. He came home before Ian was born. That was 1946 I think it was. That would be at least a year. And he was released early because my mother-in-law got him a job on a farm. Which of course we hadn’t intended. But at least it brought him home early.
Can you tell us about your life after the war? What happened?
Well a lot of the women who had been at work lost their jobs because men came home and a lot of the men were out of work because the women stayed in. A lot of the women stayed because they weren’t forced to leave, and a lot of the poor fellers were out of work but nothing like as bad as after the First War. But we gradually got back to normal. We just. It wasn’t a sudden step from war to peace, we went gradually.
Do you think the women who served were given enough recognition? Was enough credit given to the work you were doing?
Not our work. We just got not.. the women that worked in the munitions factories, the one that was near Chilton, Acliffe, they actually, I mean a lot of years later, it was much too late, it was long after the war. They were called the Acliffe Angels and they were actually given a medal. But they couldn’t have gone to work if it hadn’t been for us looking after the children. And we’ve got nothing. No recognition whatsoever. We were just ignored. Obviously the service, the women who were in service they all got the usual. But when the war was over, even those that had been in the services were finished. While they’d been very important, they came home to being nothing. It was a blow to them. I of course, was just a wife and mother after that. I never went to work. But a lot of them, women didn’t want, after that, to go back into domestic service and shop assistants and what they’d been doing before the war. So it was worse for them really. But apart from that…